Wednesday, 25 July 2012

One more click

Salmagundi has closed its doors, after five glorious years.  Thanks for the laffs, friends.

Tracey Hawthorne ("Muriel") has a new blog at:

Jane-Anne Hobbs ("Juno") is blogging at

Scrumptious South Africa

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Bad ads

There are a few ads on TV that are driving us crazy, and among the very, very worst is the Knorr ‘shake shake’ one. It features a very white South African Mum doing an eye-poppingly embarrassing dance around the kitchen in front of her two gormless teenage sons while making dinner for them and their needlessly toothy Dad, and the only thing it stirs in those watching it is the deep wish that Ninja warriors would break in through the kitchen window, slice the Mum’s head off, toss it in the bag, and dance with that around the kitchen. (In fact, when that ad comes on – and it does, often – that’s exactly what we act out, in our family. But maybe that’s just us.) And, seriously, they play it seventy-eight fucking times a night, so the ‘Shake, shake, shake, shake it all the time’ song becomes a brain-worm, and you end up wanting to gouge your own grey matter out with a spoon. Why in god’s name would those people think that would sell a product??

(Interestingly, when I googled it, the British version of this ad came up - and, amazingly, it's frame for frame the same as the South African version. So someone, somewhere, thinks this concept works well enough to translate it exactly into another culture, and torture an entire other consumer market with it. In god's name, who pays that person's salary?!)

Then there’s the horrendous ‘you don’t stay the same, why should your insurance’ one, where some awful old geyser goes through the throes of puberty before our very eyes. When my early-20s kids watch it, they shriek with embarrassment, and I feel for them. If I had an insurance product sold by them, I’d be scrabbling hysterically for my phone to cancel it.

If you really want to be left cold, there's always King Price. Sure, I'll put my hard-earned bucks into a company that advertises people riding around on other people. Just as soon as hell freezes over.
And then there’s Reuben. Every time I hear him say ‘Cube your Rama’, my soul dies a little. Reuben, Reuben! Rama, really? Really?! It’s bad enough that you’ve sold out to the dried-herbs-and-spices overlords, but MARGARINE?!

I never thought I’d say this, but bring back the creepy Vodacom meerkat, by all means. At least he came with good music and his tongue was firmly in his cheek.

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Lose Everything with Win Solutions

I never answer my landline any more because it's almost always someone trying to sell me something I don't want and probably can't afford.* But for now-redundant reasons, I have a second phone, which is connected to my ADSL line. I actually had four phones operating off two separate lines at one (pre-cellphone) stage - a guard against Telkom's near-legendary incompetence, when I always needed a working line to be able to get work through on deadline.

So on Friday, in a moment of dizziness, when the second phone rang, I answered it. The woman on the other end told me, in a very heavy Indian accent, that her name was Jaycee, and she was phoning on behalf of Win Solutions, and that they'd received several error messages about 'junk files' in my computer, and could I take a few minutes to go through a series of steps with her to clear these?

Several very loud warning bells went off. First, Jaycee's thick Indian accent on its own didn't worry me unduly, but her accent combined with a distinct delay on the line did; and, second, Jaycee seemed to have a disturbing lack of technical knowledge about how a computer actually works. 'I'm busy at the moment,' I said. 'Give me your number and I'll call you back.' She was clearly not thrilled with this idea, but finally - reluctantly and slowly, and obviously reading from something - gave me the number 021 813 9719.

I used my non-ADSL landline to call the number. As I expected, the ringtone was unusual, and I heard the call being rerouted. Another woman, also with a heavy Indian accent, answered. When I asked to speak to Jaycee, she asked me for my name and number, and said Jaycee would call me back. I gave her my name and cellphone number. About 10 seconds later, Jaycee called me back - on my ADSL line.

'Look, I'm really busy at the moment,' I said, 'but I'll write down the steps you give me, and go through them a bit later to clear my computer of the junk files.'

By this time Jaycee had had just about enough of me and my unwillingness to allow her to schnaffle all my passwords and confidential personal details, steal my identity and rob me blind. 'We don't work like that,' she told me snippily.

'What's your company's website address?' I asked.

There was a telling pause before Jaycee said, 'Just google ''pc care experts'' and you'll find us. In the meantime, press ''control'' and the Windows button at the same time, and--'

While pretending to do this (poor Jaycee! she must have been thrilled at the prospect of duping yet another stupid consumer), I did google 'pc care experts' and - surprise! - found their account had been suspended.

'Sorry, Jaycee, I'm just too busy to do this right now,' I said. 'I'll get back to you when I've got some time.'

Jaycee wasn't happy at all. 'If your computer crashes, it'll be your own fault,' she growled, before disconnecting.

I belong to a big online newsgroup, and I immediately put out a warning to its hundreds of members. A colleague, Georgina, hit the nail on the head when she responded, 'I would never fall for this kind of scam, but I know my parents-in-law probably would.' This is what's so insidious about these things: for every 10 people who know they're being scammed, at least one won't, and will unknowingly allow thieves remote access to their computers and everything in them.

* Spammers are currently have a field-day with my landline and cellphone, and the only reason I can find for this is the large loan I recently took out with Toyota Financial Services (underwritten by FNB). I filled in the usual kajillion forms, and declined to put my email address on any of them for the specific reason that I didn't want my inbox to be inundated with spam. I did, however, provide both my landline and cellphone numbers, and for the last two weeks have received up to 10 unsolicited sales calls a day on each. It makes me never want to buy anything ever again.

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After - a new sitting space with a real sofa and comfy chairs.
After weeks of noise, dust and chaos, the last stages of the renovation went very quickly - just as I was starting to think that it Really Wasn't Funny Any More, Lood and his workers sealed the last section of floor, and just like that, the space was ready to be furnished. Late on Tuesday night, with generous wine accompaniment, Johann and I made ourselves comfortable on the new sofa.

Before - small and cramped.
I wanted to spend a bit of Wednesday moving everything in, putting pictures up and reclaiming all the rooms in the rest of the house that had been stuffed with stuff for so long, but in the end it took the whole day. But it was worth it.

A much bigger space for the dining table.
I had high hopes for the new space but it really exceeded all my expectations, not least because Lood paid such careful attention to detail and found ingenious ways around several head-scratching problems (like seriously skew walls). The Oregon-pine floors we found under the wall-to-wall carpeting were a huge bonus - they look amazing after just a light sanding and wood treatment. They've also slightly ameliorated the hysteria when anyone arrives at the front door, because the dogs can't get paw-purchase on the wood, and instead of barrelling straight for the visitor, expend a bit of their energy scrabbling!

For some reason I couldn't at first work out, the new little sitting room has a 'London' feel - then I realised it's because the window looks directly onto the street. Paul confirmed this - his first impression, he said, was that it felt 'European'. (Thanks to Paul and Terry for so enthusiastically helping me roof-wet the new space - and to Terry's clock for informing us that it was well past 4am when we began to think of calling it a night!)

Another cracker gift from Terry -
a replica station clock.

Bedroom after (with new window).

Spare room before.

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Friday, 6 July 2012


I so loved this post (thanks, Jenny, for forwarding it) about the demise of Joburg’s drive-ins.

My parents both came from working-class backgrounds in the UK (my dad from Manchester and my mom from Glasgow) and, perhaps as a result, militated against all the fun things that working-class people did, which included going on holiday in caravans, getting take-out food and going to drive-ins. And as a result of that, my siblings and I wanted nothing more than to go on holiday in a caravan (despite having a real brick-and-mortar holiday house at Salt Rock), eat take-out food (although my mother was a fantastic cook) and go to drive-ins.

My brother’s best friend, Rob, had a family that was drive-in crazy – and, to add to the appeal, his dad had a Chrysler Valiant! (which my parents, who had a Peugeot station wagon, considered excessively flashy). I remember the actual ache of envy when my brother jaunted off, several times a week, to drive-in with Rob and his family in the Valiant, to eat take-out food and see movies in which people went on holiday in caravans.

(My parents did once take us to drive-in – we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Top Star – but it was just that once, which is probably why it stands out in my memory like a flaming beacon. We also once got take-outs from The Pizza Hut, and my mother vomited for the next two days, so that was the end of take-out food for us. And there was never any chance – none whatsoever – that we’d go caravanning.)

As soon as I found myself a boyfriend with a car, drive-in became a weekend treat. (And it was part of the fun, back in the days when you still paid per-person, to hide people in the boot so they could get in free.) And best of all (theoretically) were ‘midnight movies’ – double features screened when a public holiday fell on a Monday, and beginning at the stroke of 12 on a Sunday night. In reality, we’d all be played-out by midnight on a Sunday, and usually fell asleep a few minutes into the first movie, only to wake up and head blearily home at 4am on Monday. Still, it felt suitably untamed, heading off to drive-in at 11pm on Sunday night, so whether we actually saw the movies or not didn’t matter.

When I moved to Cape Town in 1985, there was only one drive-in still operating. I think it was in Strand (but I could be wrong). My boyfriend and I went there to see Out Of Africa, and it was a miserable experience. I was used to Joburg drive-in addicts who, like me, went to actually see the movie (or sleep, if it was a midnight movie; or vroetel*, but you could actually do that while also watching the movie if you positioned yourself just right). In Cape Town, people apparently went to the drive-in to show off how powerful their car engines/sound systems/spotlights were – and Meryl didn’t help, because every time she said something in her berserk Danish accent, the audience went noisily wild. It was the last time I ever went to a drive-in.

When I moved out to the Swartland in 2000, I was delighted to discover that there was still a drive-in operating in Malmesbury, although I never went to it. I’m sorry now that I didn’t, because it also closed a few years ago.

My daughter often tells me how she wishes she’d been a teenager in the 1980s, when sex and hitch-hiking didn’t kill you, legwarmers were an actual fashion accessory, music was universally danceable, and blue eyeshadow wasn’t ironic. I think it’s fair to add ‘when going to drive-in was a thing you did on a Saturday night’ to that list.

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Aaarrgghghgh! Banks!

I’ve long ago given up complaining about my bank – or any bank. They’re all as bad as each other. Regardless of their adspeak, they’re in it to make money, and that’s the bottom line.

I’ve just bought a new car, which is financed. Getting your car financed is actually quite easy if you qualify – you need to provide a slew of documentation, but if it’s all in order, you get your bucks lickety-split. And there’s a good reason for this: banks make money out of people who borrow money from them.

This is why (and read this slowly) if you put down a BIGGER DEPOSIT and choose to pay your loan off over a SHORTER PERIOD, you get nailed with a HIGHER INTEREST RATE.

Yes, that’s right: if you do what our government and everyone else who’s anyone in finance is telling you to do right now, and try to pay off your debt more quickly, the banks ‘fine’ you by charging you a higher interest rate. Why? Because that’s how they make their money. (No, they don’t care about you. Really. They don’t.)

So that’s very irritating. But much more irritating was the astonishing hoops I’ve just had to jump through to get my previous car ownership papers out of Absa. Because that car was also financed. I paid it off about 2 years ago. And now I want to sell it. I was offered a laughable trade-in price; I just didn’t feel like being screwed by the bank and a secondhand car salesman on the same day, so I declined it and I’m going to sell it privately. For which I need ownership papers. Which, to my surprise, I discovered I don’t have.

Because when you get finance to buy a car, the bank keeps the ownership papers until you pay it off. Nobody told me this; I just assumed that the hefty file I was given containing all the documentation relating to the car when I took delivery of it also contained the ownership papers.

Several phonecalls later, I discovered that once you’ve paid off your car, you have to REQUEST THE OWNERSHIP PAPERS from the finance institution (and then go to all the trouble of actually changing the ownership into your name, which is a hoop I’m going to think about jumping through – probably with the aid of several Jack Daniels – another day).

I find this amazing, that you have to actually ASK FOR your ownership papers. After all, if the bank can lighten your wallet by several thousand rands each month, and post you monthly statements confirming that they’ve done so, surely it’s not too much to ask that once they’ve reclaimed all the money you borrowed plus a kajillion bucks extra for the privilege, they can just post you the ownership documents?

But noooo. That would be too easy for us. Why should they do this when it’s just so much more inconvenient for us to have to officially request the documents?

And that’s not all. Because I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t in possession of my car’s ownership documents (which, incidentally, are still in the bank’s name – I’ve been driving a car that doesn’t technically belong to me, although I paid for it, for several years), the documents have now gone to ‘Archiving’.

The word alone sends shivers down my spine. Archiving. It conjures up images of irritable old men in dusty basement rooms, moving very slowly, ignoring ringing phones and misfiling correspondence, breaking for tea and ginger-biscuits at precisely 10.15am and 3pm, eating pickle sandwiches out of brown paper bags between 1 and 2pm, and clocking off at 4pm as the second-hand hits the 12.

To get my documents out of Archiving, I’m now required to fax (yes, FAX! when last did you send a fax??) a letter of request, a copy of my ID and a copy of the licence disk. I asked the woman who ‘helped’ me on the phone if I actually am required to scrape the disk off the car windshield to make a copy of it, and she said ‘yes’. I also asked her if I’d have to take my car through roadworthy in order to change ownership and she said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, no.’ Obviously, I’m a little concerned about that ‘as far as I’m concerned’.

Once they’ve received the fax, it will take Archiving ‘seven to ten working days’ to locate my documents. SEVEN TO TEN WORKING DAYS!? Where the hell have they archived them? In Afghanistan? Even slow-moving clock-watching grumpy old men should be able to find a document quicker than that, surely?!

I know I said I’d long ago given up complaining about banks. But I haven’t.

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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Chaos makes crazy

As we slope into the fourth week of my latest home-improvement project, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever be able to reclaim my space. The joy of discovering that under the ghastly wall-to-wall carpets were original Oregon pine floors in such good condition that all they required to make them studendous was a light sanding and a couple of coats of sealant was considerably cooled this morning when I woke to near-zero temperatures in a house where the simple act of walking to the bathroom requires stepping over several piles of stuff. And, of course, because there's paint drying practically everywhere, doors and windows must stay open - which makes for a Very Chilly indoor environment.

I took these pictures this morning.

The unlivable living room.

The verandah-cum-junkshop.

The stuffed-with-stuff spare room.

The unwelcoming workplace.

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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Charles Darwin in the western Cape and the wonders of Afrikaans

Did you know that Charles Darwin visited the western Cape during his Beagle voyage and wrote quite extensively about our ‘botany, zoology, geography, environmental aesthetics, economy, urban planning and transportation systems’? I didn’t, and thanks to Ryno for providing this information, from the November/December 2009 South African Journal of Science.

‘Charles Darwin spent most of his time geologising at the Cape – as he did everywhere else on the voyage of the Beagle,’ the journal reports. ‘He kept a special geological notebook in which he described in considerable detail his geological and geographical observations of the road from Simonstown to Cape Town, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Rump, the Sea Point Contact, the road to Paarl, Paarl Rock, the Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek and the pass to Houw Hoek, Sir Lowry’s Pass and the Cape Flats. He also collected insects, frogs, plant and other specimens of interest, most of which are housed at British institutions.’

He also remarked on language use and revealed ‘a perhaps unsurprising degree of chauvinism and colonial joy at the growth of English. He thought the Dutch were crude, far too direct and lacking in refined etiquette.’

Which brings me to a lovely essay (and thanks, Michele, for this one) on the wonders of Afrikaans. For those who don’t know, Afrikaans is a relatively young language, having developed out of the various Dutch dialects spoken by 17th-century immigrants to South Africa. Originally called ‘kitchen Dutch’, it borrowed words from several local cultures (including Khoi, Malay and Portuguese) and more recently has been influenced by South African English. Although it’s the mother tongue of only about 13% of South Africans today, it has the widest racial and geographical distribution of any of the country’s 11 official languages.

As the primary medium of instruction in schools during the Apartheid years, Afrikaans was widely loathed both as a subject and as a language by those for whom it wasn’t their mother tongue. (I nursed a dirty little secret during my high-school years: I discovered the writing of the brilliant natural-historian Eugene Marais, and grew to really love Afrikaans. But I’d sooner have had my eyes sucked out by a giant squid than admit it to my peers.)

The Afrikaners have always been very protective about their language, and in 2005 South African billionaire Johan Rupert withdrew advertising (which included for Cartier, Montblanc and Alfred Dunhill) from British magazine Wallpaper after a South African English journalist described Afrikaans as ‘one of the world’s ugliest languages’.

The essay Michele sent me contained a few of the fabulously expressive Afrikaans words and terms that either have no equivalent in English, or a flabby approximation, for instance, ‘gatvol’ (fed up), ‘lekker’ (nice), ‘jol’ (play for grownups), ‘snotklap’ (really hard smack) and ‘kak en betaal’ (cough up payment). Many South African English-speakers use these words and terms so frequently and naturally that they’ve become part of South African English. Then there’s ‘sommer’, which roughly translates as ‘just because’ and ‘ja-nee’ (literally, ‘yes-no’), which is really just a thoughtful space filler; ‘moffie’, which is a fond word for homosexual; ‘gogga’ for bug or insect; ‘babbelas’ for hangover; ‘loskop’ for absent-minded; ‘skelm’ for a baddie (which can be used fondly, for a mischievous child, or otherwise for a real adult baddie); ‘moer’ and ‘bliksem’ (hurt really badly); and ‘voetsek’ (get away).

For more South African English expressions, many of which have been nicked from Afrikaans, click here.

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